Goya: The Portraits
7 Oct 2015 – 10 Jan 2016
Featuring works never seen in Britain before, the first exhibition to focus solely on Goya's spectacular skill as a portraitist.
Regarded as 'the last of the Old Masters and the first of the moderns', Francisco de Goya's portraits are not only technically brilliant, but rich with social commentary. Far from literal depictions of his subject, there is a strong imaginative element to his work; Goya liked to portray something of the psychology of his sitter. It was a particularly daring idea for an artist who earned his living as a portraitist to the Spanish royal family and high-ranking nobles.
This exhibition explores Goya’s convention-defying approach to the genre. Fifty of his most captivating works – including drawings and miniatures – are displayed in chronological sequence, highlighting his remarkable technical and stylistic development.
Beginning with his first royal appointment as a painter to Charles III in Madrid in the 1780s, the display spans Goya's successful promotion to First Court Painter under Charles IV, his links to 'intruder King' Joseph Bonaparte after the invasion of France and his subsequent frosty relations with Ferdinand VII, who was later restored to monarchy.
Goya's portraits are rare for their astonishing lack of diplomacy and disinclination to flatter. For example, popular opinion held that Charles IV's wife – Louisa – held all the real power, and Goya placed her at the centre of his group portrait.
Meanwhile, his representation of Charles IV and his family was ridiculed by French writer Théophile Gautier as looking like 'the corner baker and his wife after they won the lottery'.
Read Rachel Spence's essay on the terrible truths revealed in Goya’s paintings in the autumn issue of Art Quarterly.